The Star (St. Lucia) - - COMMENT - By Dr. Velon John

This is­sue in its holis­tic per­cep­tion both­ers me since I am of the firm opin­ion and be­lief that the po­si­tion I have taken in the mat­ter of the Deputy Speaker is the cor­rect one. I am both­ered be­cause of the bland and ubiq­ui­tous ac­cep­tance of the sta­tus quo. Why hasn’t the for­mer Prime Min­is­ter, as a con­sti­tu­tional ex­pert, sub­mited a pa­per on the mat­ter to the House/Speaker? Con­sid­er­ing the patent im­passe, why hasn’t the Prime Min­is­ter, as leader of gov­ern­ment busi­ness, sought the res­o­lu­tion of this par­lia­men­tary farce? The present sit­u­a­tion is con­sti­tu­tion­ally, com­mon­sen­si­cally un­ten­able, and ev­ery­one is mired in a morass of self-right­eous, self­serv­ing pos­tur­ing.

There is a cer­tain re­spon­si­bil­ity that de­volves on the Speaker; there is a cer­tain re­spon­si­bil­ity that de­volves upon the Prime Min­is­ter as the leader of gov­ern­ment busi­ness.

The im­pli­ca­tions of the sta­tus quo are in­deed alarm­ing and ne­ces­si­tate, in short or­der, the in­ter­ven­tion of the court. One of the many ques­tions that needs to be an­swered is this: Are the sit­tings of the court so far held null and void or ir­reg­u­lar? If so, what are the im­pli­ca­tions and what needs to be done?

Sec­tion 36(1) of the Con­sti­tu­tion and Sec­tion (8) of the Stand­ing Or­ders es­tab­lish two time frames within which the is­sue/mat­ter of the Deputy Speaker come to the fore. The first is at the first sit­ting of the House im­me­di­ately af­ter a gen­eral elec­tion. The sec­ond is dur­ing the cur­rency of a par­lia­men­tary term and when the Deputy Speaker be­comes dis­abled for what­ever rea­son.

In Sec­tion 36(1) of the Con­sti­tiu­tion the term “as soon as con­ve­nient” refers to the sec­ond time frame - the sit­u­a­tion of dis­abil­ity. It is to be noted that in Sec­tion 35(1), which deals with the elec­tion of the Speaker, there are also two time frames; and it is in re­la­tion to the sec­ond that the term “as soon as prac­ti­ca­ble” ap­plies. Log­i­cally, func­tion­ally and prag­mat­i­cally it could not re­fer to the first time frame. It fur­ther is to be noted that in that sec­tion (35) there is a colon that di­vides the two frames.

In Sec­tion 36(1) it states in part “House shall elect a Deputy Speaker”, thus mak­ing the elec­tion of the Deputy Speaker manda­tory. In short, there must be a Deputy Speaker. In our present sit­u­a­tion this par­lia­men­tary term could con­tinue with­out a Deputy Speaker un­til the next dis­so­lu­tion of the House of As­sem­bly. That, as I see it, would be a fla­grant breach of our Con­sti­tu­tion. Would all the bills, mo­tions, etc brought be­fore the House at this time be null and void? Would the House of As­sem­bly be prop­erly con­sti­tuted?

To re­in­force my po­si­tion I now re­fer to the Stand­ing Or­ders of the House of As­sem­bly; there, no al­lu­sion is made to the term “as soon as con­ve­nient”, but the two time frames are there as in­di­cated by the word “or” and by the term “by rea­son of a va­cancy in the of­fice oc­cur­ring oth­er­wise.” At each sit­ting of the House the pres­ence of the Deputy Speaker is a cat­e­gor­i­cal and con­sti­tu­tive im­per­a­tive.

Now this brings us to the ti­tle of this ar­ti­cle: Why is the Speaker al­low­ing her­self to be ig­nored? I have been in at­ten­dance at sev­eral sit­tings of the House of As­sem­bly since the last Gen­eral Elec­tion and, on each oc­ca­sion, the first or­der of busi­ness, be­sides prayers, was the elec­tion of the Deputy Speaker. The ques­tion would be put to the House and, on each of th­ese oc­ca­sions, the Speaker would be ig­nored. A deaf­en­ing, pal­pa­ble, em­bar­rass­ing and dis­re­spect­ful si­lence would pre­vail and mem­bers would look at and across each other with in­spis­sated ar­ro­gance. And the Speaker, hav­ing been un­cer­e­mo­ni­ously si­lenced by the col­lec­tive and noi­some si­lence of the House, would, in pa­thetic help­less­ness, pro­ceed to other mat­ters on the Or­der Pa­per.

Some­thing smells in the State of Den­mark. As I see it, the han­dling of this is­sue by the Speaker in­di­cates weak­ness or ig­no­rance, or both. The Speaker is in con­trol of the House of As­sem­bly: its rules, or­ders, pro­cesses and prac­tices, and it is in­cum­bent on her to see that those rules, or­ders, etc are obeyed and ex­e­cuted. She has the in­her­ent, ac­tual and cir­cum­stan­tial power and au­thor­ity (see Sec­tion 88 of the Stand­ing Or­ders). In short, she has the Power.

But then a con­di­tion prece­dent to the ex­er­cise of that Power and Au­thor­ity is knowl­edge of the Power and Au­thor­ity and the in­testi­nal for­ti­tude to ex­er­cise that Power and Au­thor­ity. Should there be a cog­ni­tive and char­ac­tero­log­i­cal la­cuna, she should seek the ad­vice of the Chief Jus­tice in pri­vate. The three arms of Gov­ern­ment are sep­a­rate but they are not at war with each other. There is no con­flict. For that mat­ter they are sup­port­ive of each other; it is a sup­port that is cru­cial and in­dis­pens­able. For with­out it our democ­racy floun­ders and founders. The present im­passe can­not be al­lowed to con­tinue and our Con­sti­tu­tion al­lowed to be raped on a bed of blind and self-serving pas­sion. What if, in the not too dis­tant future, it is of­fi­cially de­ter­mined that the sit­tings we have had so far in the House of As­sem­bly are null and void?

House Speaker Leonne Theodore-John’s re­peated in­vi­ta­tions to the House to elect a Deputy Speaker have fallen on deaf ears.

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